Tuesday, December 14, 2010

TSA procedures fail most important test: Effectiveness

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is coming under a lot of fire lately. Privacy advocates and groups are attacking full body scanners and "enhanced" pat downs while overzealous, poorly trained or just plain drunk with power employees do things that are fueling the fires of citizen backlash against the ridiculous procedures.

From the (over)reaction to Johnny Edge's refusal to get either full body scanned or an enhanced pat down to a three year old girl terrorized by a too literal interpretation of the rules by a TSA employee, it has become obvious that the TSA and our government have forgotten who the enemy is. And I think even the low level employees know how ineffective their procedures are. The frustration, and maybe even fear that they will be the one that let's a bomber through cause them to react to any resistance, even a tired, scared three year old, as if it's a serious threat.

Of course, not everyone thinks the TSA is wrong. Even though there are experts who refute the TSA claims that the full body scanners are harmless. Even though there is doubt that the scanners would detect explosives of the type used by the crotchbomber. Even though no one knows if the scanners will detect or scan through artificial flesh. Even though the GAO recommended more testing before buying or deploying any more of the scanners earlier this year. Even though there is so much doubt about the real usefulness of the scanners The Christian Science Monitor supports the TSA, as does Alex Altman at the Time Swampland political blog. Mr. Altman cites a CBS poll showing that 81% of Americans are ok with the TSA procedures. But the problems with TSA procedures will persist even if 100% of the citizens are ok with them.

You can say that any security can be breached by someone clever and determined enough. And you wouldn't be lying. But it doesn't even take a particularly clever or determined terrorist to get through the body scanners and pat downs.

But that's not the worst. The way airport security works now, all you have to do is get into the airport and approach the people lined up at the checkpoints. Not as spectacular as the flaming remnants of a passenger jet falling from the sky, but possibly even more effective as a terror tactic. Maybe as effective psychologically as hitting the Twin Towers on 9/11.

Could Israel's system scale to work with our aviation system? Can any part of it? Has anybody checked? If it can, then leaving the system we have in place unaltered is criminally negligent.